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Shearing 2017

In the shearing shed

It is hard to describe shearing season. It is essential, and ridden with uncertainty. The sheep must be shorn once a year in order to remain healthy and productive. The wool is a critical part of our income. And it is overwhelmingly important that the wool be shorn before lambing commences—a point that was brought home in 2015 when the scheduled shearers did not show up, and the problems of the season were exacerbated by weather and visa issues for the crews. We had to lamb in the wool, and organize a complicated shearing/docking operation in June.

Shearing of the range sheep herds is accomplished by contractors, who hire highly skilled crews (mostly foreigners, who need H2-A visas). It is a well-paid profession, but like most essential agriculture jobs, hardly filled by Americans. The contractors spend most of the non-shearing season vetting, hiring and completing paperwork so that they will have enough skilled, hard-working shearers to fill their crew.

Ewes coming in to the corrals

The contractors seek to work for producers with a large number of sheep. This means that they don’t have to move as often, and are guaranteed a good period of work. Producers develop reputations for their facilities and respect for the crew, as well as proximity to amenities such as grocery stores and fuel.

Likewise, shearing contractors are known for their speed, care of the sheep and the wool, and above all, reliability. Producers value the good crews and strive to hire them. It is a dance every year, with the crews shifting as the situations change. Loyalty goes a long way for both partners.

bringing in the ewes

This year our good California crew returned, and sheared our sheep in good order. We had luck that they were able to show up only a couple of days after our original target date. Sometimes the delay is many days, or weeks. Producers have to “stage” the sheep, since the shearing areas are usually at a fixed site, with usually “just enough” feed to support the sheep as they cycle through the shed.

Luka and Riley helping in the chute

In the old days, producers had large fixed sheds, which were designed to facilitate the movement of sheep and efficiency for the shearer. Most of these old Australian-style sheds are gone now, and the traveling crews have portable sheds which are basically small buildings on a trailer base. These are ingeniously designed to allow the sheep to enter a long chute from which the shearers (usually six or eight to a shed) can pull them to the shearing floor. After she is shorn, the ewe goes out a trap door to the left, while the wool slides out to the right. The wool handlers are waiting to sort and bale the wool just outside. Some crews have “sorting tables” to make it easier to skirt and bale the wool.

wool packing crew hard at work

About 40 fleeces go into each bale, tamped down by a large ramrod into a rectangular wool bag. Bellies and tags (dirty short pieces) are baled separately, as are different types and grades of wool. The wool handlers, often women, are also skilled and must work fast to keep up with the shearers, who outnumber them.

Kimmy, Uribe, Luis and David on the job

The weather is a huge factor in all this. Wet sheep cannot be shorn. The wool quality is ruined if it is baled wet. Shearers won’t shear wet sheep because it can lead to “wool pneumonia”. Cold spring storms are a threat to recently shorn sheep. In a week or so, enough wool grows back to allow the sheep to have some insulation, but freshly shorn sheep are very vulnerable to cold, wet weather. A late April storm in 1984 killed a quarter million ewes in Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. Some of them were ours.

All that said, we are grateful that we got through the week it takes us to shear with relatively good conditions, a good crew and healthy sheep. We have to trail to the lambing grounds now with the main bunches. The two-year-olds are already under way lambing at our lambing sheds, so all hands are busy.

Ciro and Pepe

shearing the black ewes

Uribe and Megan unbelling the black ewe

Rhen helping in the chute

Rhen and Cora pushing the ewes up

Rhen practicing mutton-busting with Uribe

Edgar pushing ewes along the chute in the shed

Maeve and Seamus playing “Throw Dirt at the Sibling While Guessing the Wind Direction”

Guard dogs with shorn ewes

McCoy, Eamon, Gramps and Pat

Meghan and Eamon conferring

Riley’s lunch for corral crew and shearing crew–a welcome sight!

Siobhan and Luka in the shed

Karen with Cora and Sam–“Come early,” I said. “It’ll be fun!” I said…and it was.

Pat contemplating the shorn ewes

 

 

 

 

 

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The Centennial Livestock Express

Luis looking for the drys

We are almost done lambing out the purebred ewes (one left to go). We have a few ewes who need to go to the auction because they were dry (not pregnant) or otherwise not likely to produce a lamb next year. Here are Meghan, David and Luis catching the ewes who will go on the Centennial Livestock Express. Here also are lots of successful moms and cute baby lambs who will grow up to be our replacement ewes, bucks and 4-H lambs. It is starting to green up, so the ewes are eager to get out of the corral to chase after those early sprouts.

Luis stalking the elusive dry ewe

Davis and Meghan consulting

David and Meghan checking for milk

David with the sheephook

some Hampshire lambs

ewes and lambs with Bakers Peak

guard dog with blackface ewe

 

Seeking green grass (on the future site of the transmission lines)

 

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To lamb or not to lamb, that is the question

If it’s March, it must be time to pregnancy test. We breed the best of our Rambouillet ewes to Rambouillet rams, thereby ensuring a new crop of replacement ewe lambs, as well as their brothers/cousins. Since purebred whiteface lambs are more vulnerable at birth, especially the twins, we pregnancy check the moms so that the ewes carrying twins can lamb in the sheds. The rest of the Rambouillet ewes are bred to our Hampshire rams. Their lambs have hybrid vigor and usually do fine with drop lambing on the range. Our friend Geri Parsons from Optimal Livestock Services comes up each March at mid-pregnancy to check the ewes and call out “single”, “twins”, “open” and even “triplets”. Meghan and her crew appropriately marked the ewes with a paint dab on their heads to signify their status for later sorting. Geri usually braves chill winds and long drives for several days to accomplish this task. Here’s some photos of this year’s pregnancy checking.

Ewes, waiting for the verdict

Pepe at the chute, Geri’s office in the tent

 

It was REALLY MUDDY!!!

Chris bringing up the ewes

Pregnancy testing crew–Sam the Border collie, Modesto, Maeve, Meghan, Pepe, Tiarnan, Geri, Chris

 

the view from Eagle’s Nest, looking east

 

 

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Bucks leaving

Pepe, Meghan and Sam with the bucks

Pepe, Meghan and Sam with the bucks

 

Mid-December brings true love to our ewes and rams. The rams, at least, have been waiting in the wings since, well, last winter. Mid-January brings rest to the bucks, who have been working hard for a month. It is time to bring some of them home. Here are Pepe and Meghan loading bucks for the trip home. You can see that it is deep winter on the Red Desert. We were worried about not having enough snow for the ewes to eat for water. Now we are worried about too much crust on the snow for them to graze. Pepe and the other herders feed them corn every day to keep them strong. And pregnant.

Waiting to go home

Waiting to go home

Meghan hooking up the horsetrailer

Meghan hooking up the horsetrailer

Dos Amigos

Dos Amigos

 
 

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Adios, old year

from our Christmas tree

from our Christmas tree

New Year’s Eve morning dawned bright and clear. We had a huge pile of wood to burn from an old building we had taken down. We had livestock to tend, bucks to work, and resolutions to make.

 

Ewes on winter pasture

Ewes on winter pasture

Adopted wild horses eating hay at sheep camp

Adopted wild horses eating hay at sheep camp

Hampshire buck saying "Put me in, Coach!"

Hampshire buck saying “Put me in, Coach!”

Bringing the bucks up the chute

Bringing the bucks up the chute

The All-Girl sheep moving crew--Taylor, Siobhan and Meghan

The All-Girl sheep moving crew–Taylor, Siobhan and Meghan

Meghan and Pat sorting

Meghan and Pat sorting

Rambouillet ram out the cutting gate

Rambouillet ram out the cutting gate

Meghan, Siobhan and Taylor with the bucks

Meghan, Siobhan and Taylor with the bucks

McCoy checking things out

McCoy checking things out

Pat, with his fire-tending assistants--Seamus, McCoy, Tiarnan, Rhen and Maeve

Pat, with his fire-tending assistants–Seamus, McCoy, Tiarnan, Rhen and Maeve

Sharon with the fire-tending crew (McCoy un-photo bombed)

Sharon with the fire-tending crew (McCoy un-photo bombed)

Maeve, Seaus and Meghan

Maeve, Seamus and Meghan

Out with the old, in with the new

Out with the old, in with the new

Horses grazing with the last sunset of 2016

Horses grazing with the last sunset of 2016

 

 

 

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Scenes from Almost Solstice

Rainbow over Powder Rim

Rainbow over Powder Rim

Feral horses on Racetrack

Feral horses on Racetrack

Yemerson with his sheep near Upper Powder Spring

Yemerson with his sheep near Upper Powder Spring

Guardian dogs chowing down on whole kernel corn

Guardian dogs chowing down on whole kernel corn

Filo with guard dogs

Filo with guard dogs

Yearling ewes and old ewes

Yearling ewes and old ewes

Unloading the bucks

Unloading the bucks

Bucks spot the girls

Bucks spot the girls

Horse on the Red Desert

Horse on the Red Desert

 siobhan and Meghan with Siobhan and Meghan with Rhen photo-bombing

Lambs on Harper feedlot

Lambs on Harper feedlot

Almost Solstice sunset

Almost Solstice sunset

Sunset over Sandman Mountain

Sunset over Sandman Mountain

 

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Separating the bulls from the boys

Pat in the sorting chute

Pat in the sorting chute

 

It is time to chose our future bulls out of the contenders. The bull calves have grown out, and we looked at them with a critical eye. The best of them will grow up to be bulls and to sire our future calves. It was a big day for them, since they also had to leave their mamas and be weaned. As you can see, we finally have snow on the ground and temperatures have dropped–a lot!

Eamon with help from Chica, Belle and Gramps

Eamon with help from Chica, Belle and Gramps

Eamon, Casey and Meghan with the calves

Eamon, Casey and Meghan with the calves

Meghan, Eamon and Chica

Meghan, Eamon and Chica

Pat and Eamon with calves

Pat and Eamon with calves

 

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